9 Oct 2017

NZ doctors under pressure like never before - ASMS head

From Checkpoint, 5:23 pm on 9 October 2017

Medical specialists are paying for the chronic shortage of staff with their health, the head of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) says.

Ian Powell, the executive director of Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, told Checkpoint with John Campbell he had never seen the people on the ground in health, including the doctors he represents, under such pressure due to their workloads, while DHB bosses are also under pressure to cut deficits by finding greater efficiencies.

The ASMS surveyed clinical leaders and found they are overstretched, under-resourced and burnt out.

"We know from earlier research we've done in August last year that 50 percent of specialists in our public hospitals are burnt out and it varies a bit between district health boards, but not markedly," Mr Powell said.

"There's a very high burn-out rate at Counties [Manukau DHB] and this shows the obvious, that this burn-out is primarily due to being overworked," he said.

Specialists were paying for the staff shortages with their personal health, Mr Powell said.

"There is an abrogation of responsibility, both politically form government, and generally from district health boards as a whole to that fact," he said.

Last month Counties Manukau DHB offered some staff voluntary redundancies in an effort to ease financial pressure, despite staff saying the hospital had too few staff already.

DHB chief executive Gloria Johnson denied it was a redundancy offer, but confirmed in a statement that the offer had been made to staff to "redeploy resources to the front-line".

Mr Powell called the offer "absurd" and showed that the leadership group was operating in a bubble, away from front-line staff.

"What that is doing is saying to the existing workforce is, 'Okay, you're working very hard, you're working long hours, our contribution is to make it worse for you'. 

"But further, to do that at a time when that DHB needs to be recruiting more staff, even just to fill official vacancies, what sort of message is that giving to applicants who might want to consider working in the South Auckland area? A very negative message. That is a consequence of poor leadership, pure and simple."

ASMS surveyed the Hawke's Bay, Mid-Central, Capital and Coast and Nelson-Marlborough DHBs and Mr Powell said the results between them were very similar. 

"People are feeling under immense strain, but there is a two-fold problem here - one is we do have underfunding. The second is that there is a significant failure of leadership. 

"We have an abrogation of responsibility from the Minister of Health ... and amongst some of the district health boards themselves." 

Mr Powell said the financial strain DHB's are currently dealing with was the worst he had ever seen.

"In this case what I would say now is you have got to take this as something that has accumulated over time, particularly since 2010 and I think it is worse now - the way it has accumulated and the failure to address the warning signs - than I have ever experienced."